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Prevention efforts focused on youth reduce prescription abuse into adulthood

February 15, 2013
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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Middle school students from small towns and rural communities who received any of three community-based prevention programs were less likely to abuse prescription medications in late adolescence and young adulthood, according to research. The research, published in the American Journal of Public Health, was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the National Institute of Mental Health, all components of the National Institutes of Health.

The article, by scientists at Iowa State University, Ames, and Penn State, University Park, presents the combined research results of three randomized controlled trials of preventive interventions – termed “universal” because they target all youth regardless of risk for future substance abuse. All three studies involved rural or small-town students in grades six or seven, who were randomly assigned to a control condition (receiving no prevention intervention) or to a family-focused intervention alone or in combination with a school-based intervention:

  • Study 1, begun in 1993, tested a family-focused intervention alone (22 schools).
  • Study 2, begun in 1997, tested a combined family-focused intervention and a school-based life skills training program (24 schools).
  • Study 3, begun in 2002, tested a delivery system for a family-focused intervention and one of three school-based interventions selected from a menu (28 schools).

All of these interventions addressed general risk and protective factors for substance abuse rather than specifically targeting prescription drug abuse. In follow-up questionnaires and telephone interviews completed at 17-25 years of age, students across the three studies showed reductions in risk -- ranging from about 20 percent to as much as 65 percent -- for prescription drug and opioid abuse, compared to students in the control groups. Importantly, the interventions used had previously been shown to reduce the likelihood of other substance use or other problem behaviors.

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